Brilliant spark for personalised therapies

Brilliant spark for personalised therapies

The 2015 Spark Award goes to a group of researchers led by ETH Professor Manfred Kopf, which has developed a method by which specific characteristics of immune cells can be identified. The technology could prove to be an important tool in personalised medicine.

A total of 145 inventions, 82 of which have been registered for patent approval: ETH Zurich researchers developed many brilliant ideas for new technologies in 2014. Every year, ETH nominates the technologies with the greatest commercial potential for the Spark Award. External judges and specialists from ETH transfer, ETH Zurich’s technology transfer unit, evaluate the inventions. Apart from the commercial potential also originality and  patent strength are taken into account..

“Have you ever wondered what a spark is?” asked Detlef Günther, Vice President Research and Corporate Relations of ETH Zürich in his welcome speech at this year’s Spark Award ceremony. A spark is something that is really highly energetic, explained Günther, a charged particle that emits light. And that energy transfer typically starts from one single particle or from a group, and typically the strongest one. “Today we hope to find the most innovative particle or group of particles with the most innovative idea in this room.”

This year, ETH Professor Manfred Kopf and his colleagues Jan Kisielow and Franz-Josef Obermair receive the Spark Award for a new technology that allows large scale and simple characterisation of specific immune cells, called T-cells. “We hope our technology will be an important tool in many clinical areas, be it diagnostics or individualised therapies,” says Kisielow, a research associate at the Institute for Molecular Health Sciences.

Target search in high-throughput

T-cells carry specific receptors that recognise virus-infected or degenerate cells in the body so that they can render them harmless. When T-cells mature, countless variants with different receptors develop that recognise each other’s target structures (antigens). A complex immune selection process eliminates those T-cells that recognise the body’s healthy cells. Remaining is a battalion of T-cells with different receptors that match all kinds of extraneous and abnormal antigens. In autoimmune diseases, such as polyarthritis or multiple sclerosis, T-cells develop with receptors that incorrectly identify and attack healthy cells in the body.

Jan Kisielow explains in a video how their technology allows to characterise specific characterstics of T cells.

The technology developed by Kopf, Kisielow and Obermair is a high-throughput method by which the antigens recognised by T-cells can be identified. A cell equipped with a light signal presents an antigen from a library of candidate molecules on its surface. If a T-cell with its receptor now binds to the presented molecule, the light signal is switched on and contact between the T-cell and the antigen is immediately reported. Through the light signal, the antigen can be picked out from the library and identified.

This invention could enable the development of customised therapies for patients. For example, if one knows the target peptide of the stray T-cells in an autoimmune disease, it may be possible to mask it in order to protect the healthy cells. It is also conceivable that the degenerate T-cells in the patient’s blood could be used as an indicator in the diagnosis of autoimmune diseases. In addition, T-cells found in close proximity to a tumour could provide insight into new tumour antigens, which may allow customised cancer immunotherapy.

For further dialogues with the scientists read more at:

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